I went to a Memorial this weekend. It was nobody I knew, it was for the Music Director at my Girlfriends church. He died after a two year battle with Pancreatic Cancer. Even though I’d never met him, I could tell what kind of person he was, and what kind of life he lived by the service, and the people who came. The church was packed, and there were tears everywhere. It was obvious that he had touched a lot of lives, and was greatly loved by many.
It got me thinking… What is my memorial going to be like?
I’ve known a great number of people in my life. You can’t go through as many job changes as I have without making friends and interacting with others. Most of my career I managed people; sometimes a lot of people. Even if I didn’t really know all of them, they knew me, and I was in a position to influence their lives. I’ve developed social circles with each of my four wives. And there have been the step children of them and their friends. There are the friends of friends that I’ve connected with through shared experiences. Through the magic of Face Book I’ve been able to stay in touch with old friends and school mates that I otherwise wouldn’t. Even dealing with my illness has given me the opportunity to meet so many others. (I met my second wife while I was in patient in a mental hospital for example).
There are literally hundreds of people I’ve had some type of contact and opportunity for influence on their lives.
So what kind of impact have I had?
Of course we all want to think that we’ve had a positive influence on those around us. Well, most of us anyway. There are always the type who really don’t care about anybody but themselves, and couldn’t give a rats ass what others think about them. But I believe that the vast majority do care, and probably care too much. I know it has always been important to me that I affect everybody in a positive way. Wanting to be liked has been a major factor in my behaviors and a source of both satisfaction and angst depending on how successful I’ve believed myself to be.
So what’s the reality?
There are two ways I could look at this. There’s the intellectual side, and the emotional side. Intellectually I’d like to believe that I’ve been a good influence on at least a majority of the people who have been in my life. I know I’m a good person, and I always try to respect others’ feelings and perspectives. As a boss I’ve always strived to be a good role model and good to my employees. It’s been my intent to treat people fairly and with respect. But has that always been the case? Am I really being honest with myself?
Emotionally, this is a completely different story. My insecurities leave me thinking that nobody really likes me. I’m mostly tolerated at best. I’m afraid that I come across as arrogant and pushy. People may like me initially, but I think that once they really get to know me their opinions change. I feel inferior and unworthy. I look at others and wish I could be like them.
I’m going to take a quick detour. When I was 21, there was a couple that I knew through the church I was attending at the time. They both really seemed to have their act together. Even though they were only a couple of years older than I, they were happily married, had respectable jobs, and were working on buying their first house together. I was working, and engaged to be married. But I didn’t feel like I had myself together at all. One day, the husband came up to me and said “Can I tell you something? I really wish I were more like you. I’m impressed with what you’ve been able to accomplish and how you approach your life.” He wishes he was more like me? Damn! That was a life changing moment for me. You just never know what kind of perception others have of you.
But then there’s the influence of my bipolar disorder. When I’m depressed I feel like I just bring down those around me. They can feel sorry for me, and want to help, but the nature of this illness is that the worse you feel, the more you need help, the less you want to be around anybody. After a while it has to be trying and frustrating. That can’t be a positive experience. Then there is the mania. More times than not, I get angry. Really angry. I don’t deliberately direct my anger towards anybody in particular; especially people I know. But rage that intense has to have a huge effect on everybody. People not only avoid me, they can be downright scared of me. And they should be. My rages can get so out of control they have to be frightening. I get frightened of myself.
No matter what positives I might bring, are they completely canceled out by my craziness?
So let me bring it back to my original thought. How is it all going to end? I came very close to dying last August. I came a lot closer than I like to think about. And I’m not getting any younger. Physically I have to admit I don’t take very good care of myself. I smoke too much, I drink too much, and I don’t eat enough. It’s got to be taking its toll, and moving me ever closer to my own mortality. So what’s going to happen? What of all the people I’ve touched over my life; good and bad. Will they be sad at my passing? Will they want to show respect for me and my life? Yes, I’ll have my family, and I’m sure they will be devastated at my loss. And I know I have a few close friends who will be greatly impacted as well. But what of my memorial? Will I have a packed church and many tears like the one I went to this weekend? It’s not being selfish and arrogant; it’s not a competition. It’s certainly not ‘see how important I was?” Its knowing how good I was for all the people I’ve come in contact with during my life. It’s the hope that I gave more good than bad. It’s my legacy.
I’m afraid that if I were somehow able to be aware of my final goodbye, I’d be very disappointed. Again, it’s not about just the numbers; it’s about the value I’ve been able to bring. I have to believe that those truly mourning will only be a select few. For all the people I’ve interacted with over the last five decades, most have been temporary and fleeting. I’m not trying to be negative, just realistic. I just can’t imagine that I’ve made that much of an impact up until now.
It’s something to remember as I move forward. Just like Ebenezer Scrooge… It’s never too late. I want my life to matter, and bring as much good to the world as I can. The memorial of my life won’t be a popularity contest, but a measurement of how many lives I’ve been able to bring something positive. I want to leave a legacy of worth and value. I want my life to have meaning to as many people as possible.
You only get one shot. I want it to count. Before it’s too late.